Absolution Of Lord Thomas Fitzgerald For The Murder Of The Archbishop Of Dublin

Negotiations for a treaty--Appeal of Catherine to the Emperor--Fresh plans

for the escape of Mary--Forbidden by the Emperor--The King and his

daughter--Suggestion of Dr. Butts--The clergy and the Reformation--The

Charterhouse monks--More and Fisher in the Tower--The Emperor in Africa--

The treaty--Rebellion in Ireland----Treason of Lord Hussey--Fresh

debates in the Spanish Council--Fisher created cardinal--Trial and

cution of Fisher and More--Effect in Europe.

More than a year had now passed since Clement had delivered judgment on

the divorce case. So far the discharge had been ineffective, and the Brief

of Execution, the direct command to the Catholic Powers to dethrone Henry

and to his subjects to renounce their allegiance, was still withheld. The

advances which the new Pope had made to England having met with no

response, Paul III. was ready to strike the final blow, but his hand had

been held by Charles, who was now hoping by a treaty to recover the

English alliance. Catherine had consented, but consented reluctantly, to

an experiment from which she expected nothing. Chapuys himself did not

wish it to succeed, and was unwilling to part with the expectations which

he had built on Darcy's promises. The Spanish Council, in recommending the

course which the Emperor had taken, had foreseen the dispiritment which it

might produce among the Queen's friends, and the injury to the Holy See by

the disregard of a sentence which Charles had himself insisted on. The

treaty made no progress. The sacrifice appeared to be fruitless, and

Catherine appealed to Charles once more in her old tone. She would be

wanting in her duty to herself, she said, and she would offend God, if she

did not seek the help of those who alone could give her effectual

assistance. She must again press upon his Majesty the increasing perils to

the Catholic Faith and the injury to the English realm which his neglect

to act was producing. The sentence of Clement had been powerless. She

entreated him with all her energy as a Christian woman to hesitate no

longer. Her daughter had been ill, and had not yet recovered. Had her

health been strong, the treatment which she received would destroy it,

and, if she died, there would be a double sin. The Emperor need not care

for herself. She was accustomed to suffering and could bear anything. But

she must let him know that she was as poor as Job, and was expecting a

time when she would have to beg alms for the love of God.

Mary was scarcely in so bad a case as her mother represented. Her spirit

had got the better of her illness, and she was again alert and active. The

King had supplied her with money and had sent her various kind messages,

but she was still eager to escape out of the realm, and Charles had again

given a qualified consent to the attempt being made if it was sure of

success. With Mary in his hands, he could deal with Henry to better

advantage. A favourable opportunity presented itself. Three Spanish ships

were lying in the Lower Pool; Mary was still at Greenwich, and their crews

were at her disposition. Chapuys asked if she was ready. She was not only

ready but eager. She could leave the palace at night with the help of

confederates, be carried on board, and disappear down the river.

Accident, or perhaps a whispered warning, deranged her plans. By a sudden

order she was removed from Greenwich to Eltham. The alteration of

residence was not accompanied with signs of suspicion. She was treated

with marked respect. A State litter of some splendour was provided for

her. The governess, Mrs. Shelton, however, was continued at her side, and

the odious presence redoubled her wish to fly. Before she left Greenwich

she sent a message to Chapuys imploring his advice and his assistance. She

begged him for the love of God to contrive fresh means for removing her

from the country. The enterprise, he thought, would be now dangerous, but

not impossible, and success would be a glorious triumph. The Princess had

told him that in her present lodging she could not be taken away at night,

but she might walk in the day in fine weather, and might be surprised and

carried off as if against her consent. The river would not be many miles

distant, and, if she could be fallen in with when alone, there might be

less difficulty than even at Greenwich, because she could be put on board

below Gravesend.

As a ship would be required from Flanders, Chapuys communicated directly

with Granvelle. He was conscious that, if he was himself in England when

the enterprise was attempted, his own share in it would be suspected and

it might go hard with him. He proposed, therefore, under some excuse of

business in the Low Countries, to cross over previously.

It would be a splendid coup, he said, and, considering how much the

Princess wished it and her remarkable prudence and courage, the thing

could, no doubt, be managed. Could she be once seized and on horseback,

and if there was a galley at hand and a large ship or two, there would be

no real difficulty. The country-people would help her, and the parties

sent in pursuit would be in no hurry.

Either the difficulties proved greater than were expected, or Charles was

still hoping for the treaty, and would not risk an experiment which would

spoil the chances of an accommodation. Once more he altered his mind and

forbade the venture, and Chapuys had to take up again a negotiation from

which he had no expectation of good. He met Cromwell from time to time,

his master's pleasure being to preserve peace on tolerable terms; and the

Ambassador continued to propose the reference of the divorce case to the

General Council, on which Cromwell had seemed not unwilling to listen to

him. If Henry could be tempted by vague promises to submit his conduct to

a Council called by the Pope, he would be again in the meshes out of which

he had cut his way. The cunning Ambassador urged on Cromwell the honour

which the King would gain if a Council confirmed what he had done; and

when Cromwell answered that a Council under the Emperor's influence might

rather give an adverse sentence, he said that, if it was so, the King

would have shown by a voluntary submission that his motives had been pure,

and might have perfect confidence in the Emperor's fairness. Cromwell said

he would consult the King; but the real difficulty lay in the pretensions

of the Princess. Cromwell was well served; he probably knew, as well as

Chapuys, of the intended rape at Eltham, and all that it would involve.

"Would to God"--he broke out impatiently, and did not finish the sentence;

but Chapuys thought he saw what the finish would have been. Henry may

be credited with some forbearance towards his troublesome daughter. She

defied his laws. Her supporters were trying to take his crown from him,

and she herself was attempting to escape abroad and levy war upon him. Few

of his predecessors would have hesitated to take ruder methods with so

unmalleable a piece of metal. She herself believed that escape was her

only chance of life. She was in the power of persons who, she had been

told, meant to poison her, while no means were neglected to exasperate the

King's mind against her. He, on his side, was told that she was incurably

obstinate, while everything was concealed that might make him more

favourably disposed towards her. In the midst of public business with

which he was overwhelmed, he could not know what was passing inside the

walls at Eltham. He discovered occasionally that he had been deceived. He

complained to Cromwell "that he had found much good in his daughter of

which he had not been properly informed." But if there was a conspiracy

against Mary, there was also a conspiracy against himself, in a quarter

where it could have been least expected.

Dr. Butts, the King's physician, whose portrait by Holbein is so familiar

to us, was one of the most devoted friends of Queen Catherine. During

Mary's illness, Dr. Butts had affected to be afraid of the responsibility

of attending upon her. He had consented afterwards, though with apparent

reluctance, and had met in consultation Catherine's doctor, who had also

allowed himself to be persuaded. Henry sent Butts down to Eltham with his

own horses. The Royal physician found his patient better than he expected,

and, instead of talking over her disorders, he talked of the condition of

the realm with his brother practitioner. "The Doctor is a very clever

man," wrote Chapuys, reporting the account of the conversation which he

received from the Queen's physician, "and is intimate with the nobles and

the Council. He says that there are but two ways of assisting the Queen

and Princess and of setting right the affairs of the realm: one would be

if it pleased God to visit the King with some little malady." "The

second method was force, of which, he said, the King and his Ministers

were in marvellous fear. If it came to a war, he thought the King would be

specially careful of the Queen and Princess, meaning to use them, should

things turn to the worst, as mediators for peace. But if neither of these

means were made use of, he really believed they were in danger of their

lives. He considered it was lucky for the King that the Emperor did not

know how easy the enterprise of England would be; and the present, he

said, was the right time for it."

His private physician, it is to be remembered, was necessarily, of all

Henry's servants, the most trusted by him; and the doctor was not

contented with indirect suggestions, for he himself sent a secret message

to Chapuys that twenty great peers and a hundred knights were ready, they

and their vassals, to venture fortune and life, with the smallest

assistance from the Emperor, to rise and make a revolution.

Dr. Butts with his petite maladie was a "giant traitor," though, happily

for himself, he was left undiscovered. Human sympathies run so inevitably

on the side of the sufferers in history, that we forget that something

also is due to those whom they forced into dealing hardly with them.

Catherine and the faithful Catholics who conspired and lost their lives

for her cause and the Pope's, are in no danger of losing the favourable

judgment of the world; the tyranny and cruelty of Henry VIII. will

probably remain for ever a subject of eloquent denunciation; but there is

an altera pars--another view of the story, which we may be permitted

without offence to recognise. Henry was, on the whole, right; the general

cause for which he was contending was a good cause. His victory opened the

fountains of English national life, won for England spiritual freedom, and

behind spiritual freedom her political liberties. His defeat would have

kindled the martyr-fires in every English town, and would have burnt out

of the country thousands of poor men and women as noble as Catherine

herself. He had stained the purity of his action by intermingling with it

a weak passion for a foolish and bad woman, and bitterly he had to suffer

for his mistake; but the revolt against, and the overthrow of,

ecclesiastical despotism were precious services, which ought to be

remembered to his honour; and, when the good doctor to whom he trusted his

life, out of compassion for an unfortunate lady was, perhaps, willing to

administer a doubtful potion to him, or to aid in inviting a Catholic

army into England to extinguish the light that was dawning there, only

those who are Catholics first and Englishmen afterwards will say that it

was well done on the doctor's part.

The temper of the nation was growing dangerous, and the forces on both

sides were ranging themselves for the battle. Bishop Fisher has been seen

sounding on the same string. He, with More, had now been for many months

in the Tower, and his communications with Chapuys having been cut off, he

had been unable to continue his solicitations; but the Ambassador had

undertaken for the whole of the clergy on the instant that the Emperor

should declare himself. The growth of Lutheranism had touched their hearts

with pious indignation; their hatred of heresy was almost the sole

distinction which they had preserved belonging to their sacred calling.

The regular orders were the most worthless; the smaller monasteries were

nests of depravity; the purpose of their existence was to sing souls out

of purgatory, and the efficacy of their musical petitionings being no

longer believed in, the King had concluded that monks and nuns could be

better employed, and that the wealth which maintained them could be turned

to better purpose--to the purpose especially of the defence of the realm

against them and their machinations. The monks everywhere were the active

missionaries of treason. They writhed under the Act of Supremacy. Their

hope of continuance depended on the restoration of the Papal authority.

When they were discovered to be at once useless and treacherous, it was

not unjust to take their lands from them and apply the money for which

those lands could be sold, to the fleet and the fortresses on the coast.

In this, the greatest of his reforms, Cromwell had been the King's chief

adviser. He had been employed under Wolsey in the first suppression of the

most corrupt of the smaller houses. In the course of his work he had

gained an insight into the scandalous habits of their occupants, which

convinced him of the impolicy and uselessness of attempting to prolong

their existence. Institutions however ancient, organizations however

profoundly sacred, cannot outlive the recognition that the evil which they

produce is constant and the advantage visionary.

That the monastic system was doomed had become generally felt; that the

victims of the intended overthrow should be impatient of their fate was no

more than natural. The magnitude of the design, the interests which were

threatened, the imagined sanctity attaching to property devoted to the

Church, gave an opportunity for outcry against sacrilege. The entire body

of monks became in their various orders an army of insurrectionary

preachers, well supplied with money, terrifying the weak, encouraging the

strong, and appealing to the superstitions so powerful with a people like

the English, who were tenacious of their habits and associations.

The Abbots and Priors had sworn to the supremacy, but had sworn

reluctantly, with secret reservations to save their consciences. With the

prospect of an Imperial deliverer to appear among them, they were

recovering courage to defy their excommunicated enemy. Those who retained

the most of the original spirit of their religion were the first to

recover heart for resistance. The monks of the London Charterhouse, who

were exceptions to the general corruption, and were men of piety and

character, came forward to repudiate their oaths and to dare the law to

punish them. Their tragical story is familiar to all readers of English

history. Chapuys adds a few particulars. Their Prior, Haughton, had

consented to the Act of Supremacy; but his conscience told him that in

doing so he had committed perjury. He went voluntarily, with three of the

brotherhood, to Cromwell, and retracted his oath, declaring that the King

in calling himself Head of the Church was usurping the Pope's authority.

They had not been sent for; their house was in no immediate danger; and

there was no intention of meddling with them. Their act was a gratuitous

defiance; and under the circumstances of the country was an act of war.

The effect, if not the purpose, was, and must have been, to encourage a

spirit which would explode in rebellion. Cromwell warned them of their

danger, and advised them to keep their scruples to themselves. They said

they would rather encounter a hundred thousand deaths. They were called

before a Council of Peers. The Knights of the Garter were holding their

annual Chapter, and the attendance was large. The Duke of Norfolk

presided, having returned to the Court, and the proceedings were unusually

solemn. The monks were required to withdraw their declaration; they were

told that the statute was not to be disputed. They persisted. They were

allowed a night to reflect, and they spent it on their knees in prayer. In

the morning they were recalled; their courage held, and they were

sentenced to die, with another friar who had spoken and written to similar


They had thrown down a challenge to the Government; the challenge was

accepted, and the execution marked the importance of the occasion. They

were not a handful of insignificant priests, they were the advanced guard

of insurrection; and to allow them to triumph was to admit defeat. They

were conducted through the streets by an armed force. The Duke of Norfolk,

the Duke of Richmond, Henry's illegitimate son, Lord Wiltshire, and Lord

Rochford attended at the scaffold. Sir Henry Norris was also there,

masked, with forty of the Royal Guard on horseback. At the scaffold they

were again offered a chance of life; again they refused, and died

gallantly. The struggle had begun for the Crown of England. In claiming

the supremacy for the Pope, these men had abjured their allegiance to the

King whom the Pope had excommunicated. Conscience was nothing--motive was

nothing. Conscience was not allowed as a plea when a Lutheran was

threatened with the stake. In all civil conflicts high motives are to be

found on both sides, and in earnest times words are not used without

meaning. The Statute of Supremacy was Henry's defence against an attempt

to deprive him of his crown and deprive the kingdom of its independence.

To disobey the law was treason; and the penalty of treason was death.

Chapuys in telling the story urged it as a proof to Charles that there was

no hope of the King's repentance. It was now expected that More and

Fisher, and perhaps the Queen and Princess, would be called on also to

acknowledge the supremacy, and, if they refused, would suffer the same

fate. The King's Ministers, Chapuys said, were known to have often

reproached the King, and to have told him it was a shame for him and the

kingdom not to punish them as traitors. Anne Boleyn was fiercer and

haughtier than ever she was. Sir Thomas More was under the same

impression that Anne had been instigator of the severities. She would take

his head from him, he said, and then added, prophetically, that her own

would follow. The presence of her father and brother and her favourite

Norris at the execution of the Carthusians confirmed the impression. The

action of the Government had grounds more sufficient than a woman's

urgency. More and Fisher received notice that they would be examined on

the statute, and were allowed six weeks to prepare their answer. Chapuys

did not believe that any danger threatened Catherine, or threatened her

household. She herself, however, anticipated the worst, and only hoped

that her own fate might rouse the Emperor at last.

The Emperor was not to be roused. He was preparing for his great

expedition to Tunis to root out the corsairs, and had other work on hand.

In vain Chapuys had tried to make him believe that Cromwell meditated the

destruction of the Princess Mary; in vain Chapuys had told him that words

were useless, and that "cautery was the only remedy"--that the English

Peers were panting for encouragement to take arms. He had no confidence in

insurgent subjects who could not use the constitutional methods which they

possessed to do anything for themselves. He saw Henry crushing down

resistance with the relentless severity of the law. He replied to

Chapuys's entreaties that, although he could not in conscience abandon his

aunt and cousin, yet the Ambassador must temporise. He had changed his

mind about Mary's escape: he said it was dangerous, unadvisable, and not

to be thought of. The present was not the proper moment. He wrote a

cautious letter to the King, which he forwarded for Chapuys to deliver.

In spite of Charterhouse monks and Lutheran preachers, the Ambassador was

to take up again the negotiations for the treaty.

Thus Cromwell and he recommenced their secret meetings. A country-house

was selected for the purpose, where their interviews would be unobserved.

Chapuys had recommended that Henry should assist in calling a General

Council. Cromwell undertook that Henry would consent, provided the Council

was not held in Italy, or in the Pope's or the Emperor's dominions, and

provided that the divorce should not be among the questions submitted to

it. The Emperor, he said, had done enough for his honour, and might now

leave the matter to the King's conscience. With respect to the Queen and

Princess, the King had already written to Sir John Wallop, who was to lay

his letters before the Spanish Ambassador in Paris. The King had said

that, although the Emperor, in forsaking a loyal friend for the sake of a

woman, had not acted well with him, yet he was willing to forget and

forgive. If the Emperor would advise the ladies to submit to the judgment

of the Universities of Europe, which had been sanctioned by the English

estates of the realm, and was as good as a decree of a Council, they would

have nothing to complain of. Chapuys observed that such a letter

ought to have been shown to himself before it was sent; but that was of no

moment. The King of France, Cromwell went on, would bring the Turk, and

the Devil, too, into Christendom to recover Milan; the King and the

Emperor ought to draw together to hold France in check; and yet, to give

Chapuys a hint that he knew what he had been doing, he said he had heard,

though he did not believe it, that the Emperor and the King of the Romans

had thought of invading England, in a belief that they would make an easy

conquest of it. They would find the enterprise more costly than they

expected, and, even if they did conquer England, they could not keep it.

Chapuys, wishing to learn how much had been discovered, asked what

Cromwell meant. Cromwell told him the exact truth. The scheme had been to

stop the trade between England and Flanders. A rebellion was expected to

follow, which, Cromwell admitted, was not unlikely; and then, in great

detail and with a quiet air of certainty, he referred to the solicitations

continually made to the Emperor to send across an army.

Leaving Chapuys to wonder at his sources of information, so accurate,

Cromwell spoke of an approaching conference at Calais, which was to be

held at the request of the French King. He did not think anything would

come of it. He had himself declined to be present, but one of the

proposals to be made would be an offer of the Duke of Angouleme for the

young Princess Elizabeth. The Council, he said, had meantime been

reviewing the old treaty for the marriage of the Emperor to the Princess

Mary, and the King had spoken in the warmest terms of the Emperor. Perhaps

as a substitute for the French connection, and provided the divorce was

not called in question again, he thought that the Princess Elizabeth might

be betrothed to Philip, and a marriage could be found out of the realm for

the Princess Mary with the Emperor's consent and approbation. The King, in

this case, would give her the greatest and richest dower that was ever

given to any Queen or Empress.

Chapuys observed that the divorce must be disposed of before fresh

marriages could be thought of. Cromwell wished him to speak himself to the

King. Chapuys politely declined to take so delicate a negotiation out of

Cromwell's hands. For himself, he had not yet abandoned hope of a

different issue. Lord Darcy was still eager as ever, and wished to

communicate directly with the Emperor. From Ireland, too, the news were

less discouraging. The insurrection had burnt down, but was still

unsubdued. Lord Thomas found one of his difficulties to lie in the

incompleteness of the Papal censures. The formal Bull of Deposition was

still unpublished. The young chief had written to the Pope to say that,

but for this deficiency, he would have driven the English out of the

island, and to beg that it might be immediately supplied. He had himself,

too, perhaps, been in fault. The murder of an archbishop who had not been

directly excommunicated was an irregularity and possibly a crime. He

prayed that the Pope would send him absolution. Paul as he read the letter

showed much pleasure. He excused his hesitation as having risen from a

hope that the King of England would repent. For the future he said he

would do his duty; and at once sent Lord Thomas the required pardon for an

act which had been really meritorious.

The absolution may have benefited Lord Thomas's soul. It did not save him

from the gallows.

Again Cromwell and Chapuys met. Again the discussion returned to the

insoluble problem. The Spanish Council of State had half recommended that

the divorce should be passed over, as it had been at Cambray. Chapuys

laboured to entangle Henry in an engagement that it should be submitted

to the intended General Council. The argument took the usual form.

Cromwell said that the King could not revoke what he had done, without

disgrace. Chapuys answered that it was the only way to avoid disgrace, and

the most honourable course which he could adopt. The King ought not to be

satisfied in such a matter with the laws and constitutions of his own

country. If he would yield on this single point, the taking away the

property of the clergy might in some degree be confirmed. The ground

alleged for it being the defence of the realm, there would be less

occasion for such measures in future; the Emperor would allow the King to

make his submission in any form that he might choose, and everything

should be made as smooth as Henry could desire.

Cromwell, according to Chapuys, admitted the soundness of the argument,

but he said that it was neither in his power, nor in any man's power, to

persuade the King, who would hazard all rather than yield. Even the

present Pope, he said, had, when Cardinal, written an autograph letter to

the King, telling him that he had a right to ask for a divorce, and that

Clement had done him great wrong.

The less reason then, Chapuys neatly observed, for refusing to lay the

matter before a General Council.

The Ambassador went through his work dutifully, though expecting nothing

from it, and his reports of what passed with the English Ministers ended

generally with a recommendation of what he thought the wiser course. Lord

Hussey, he said, had sent to him to say that he could remain no longer in

a country where all ranks and classes were being driven into heresy; and

would, therefore, cross the Channel to see the Emperor in person, to urge

his own opinion and learn the Emperor's decision from his own lips. If

the answer was unfavourable he would tell his friends, that they might not

be deceived in their expectations. They would then act for


It is likely that Chapuys had been instructed to reserve the concessions

which Charles was prepared to make till it was certain that, without them,

the treaty would fail. France meanwhile was outbidding the Emperor, and

the King was using, without disguise, the offers of each Power to alarm

the other. Cromwell at the next meeting told Chapuys that Francis was

ready to support the divorce unreservedly if Henry would assist him in

taking Milan. The French, he said, should have a sharp answer, could

confidence be felt in the Emperor's overtures. A sharp struggle was going

on in the Council between the French and Imperial factions. Himself

sincerely anxious for the success of the negotiation in which he was

engaged, Cromwell said he had fallen into worse disgrace with Anne Boleyn

than he had ever been. Anne had never liked him. She had told him recently

"she would like to see his head off his shoulders." She was equally

angry with the Duke of Norfolk, who had been too frank in the terms in

which he had spoken of her. If she discovered his interviews with Chapuys

she would do them both some ill turn.

The King himself agreed with Cromwell in preferring the Emperor to

Francis, but he would not part company with France till he was assured

that Charles no longer meant his harm. Charles, it will be remembered, had

himself written to Henry, and the letter had by this time arrived. Chapuys

feared that, if he presented it at a public audience, the Court would

conclude that the Emperor was reconciled, and had abandoned the Queen and

Princess, so he applied for a private reception. The King granted it, read

the letter, spoke graciously of the expedition against the Turks, and then

significantly of his own armaments and the new fortifications at Dover and

Calais. He believed (as Chapuys had heard from the Princess Mary) that, if

he could tide over the present summer, the winter would then protect him,

and that in another year he would be strong enough to fear no one. Seeing

that he said nothing of the treaty, Chapuys began upon it, and said that

the Emperor was anxious to come to terms with him, so far as honour and

conscience would allow. Henry showed not the least eagerness. He replied

with entire frankness that France was going to war for Milan. Large offers

had been made to him, which, so far, he had not accepted; but he might be

induced to listen, unless he could be better assured of the Emperor's


It was evident that Henry could neither be cajoled nor frightened. Should

Charles then give up the point for which he was contending? Once more the

Imperial Privy Council sat to consider what was to be done. It had become

clear that no treaty could be made with Henry unless the Emperor would

distinctly consent that the divorce should not be spoken of. The old

objections were again weighed--the injuries to the Queen and to the Holy

See, the Emperor's obligations, the bad effect on Christendom and on

England which a composition on such terms would produce, the encouragement

to other Princes to act as Henry had done--stubborn facts of the case

which could not be evaded. On the other hand were the dangerous attitude

of Francis, the obstinacy of Henry, the possibility that France and

England might unite, and the inability of the Emperor to encounter their

coalition. Both Francis and Henry were powerful Princes, and a quarrel

would not benefit the Queen and her daughter if the Emperor was powerless

to help them. The divorce was the difficulty. Should the Emperor insist on

a promise that it should be submitted to a General Council? It might be

advisable, under certain circumstances, to create disturbances in England

and Ireland, so as to force the King into an alliance on the Emperor's

terms. But if Henry could be induced to suspend or modify his attacks on

the Faith and the Church, to break his connection with France and withdraw

from his negotiations with the Germans, if securities could be taken that

the Queen and Princess should not be compelled to sign or promise anything

without the Emperor's consent, the evident sense of the Spanish Council of

State was that the proceedings against the King should be suspended,

perhaps for his life, and that no stipulations should be insisted on,

either for the King's return to the Church or for his consent to the

meeting of the General Council. God might perhaps work on the King's

conscience without threat of force or violence; and the Emperor, before

starting on his expedition to Tunis, might tell the English Ambassador

that he wished to be the King's friend, and would not go to war with any

Christian Prince unless he was compelled. The Queen's consent would, of

course, be necessary; she and the Princess would be more miserable than

ever if they were made to believe that there was no help for them.

But their consent, if there was no alternative, might be assumed when a

refusal would be useless.

If the willingness to make concessions was the measure of the respective

anxieties for an agreement between the two countries, Spain was more eager

than England, for the Emperor was willing to yield the point on which he

had broken the unity of Christendom and content himself with words, while

Henry would yield nothing, except the French alliance, for which he had

cared little from the time that France had refused to follow him into


An alliance of the Emperor with an excommunicated sovereign in the face of

a sentence which he had himself insisted on, and with a Bull of Deposition

ready for launching, would be an insult to the Holy See more dangerous to

it than the revolt of a single kingdom. The treaty might, however, have

been completed on the terms which Wallop and the Imperial Ambassador had

agreed on at Paris, and which the Imperial Council had not rejected. The

Pope saw the peril, struck in, and made it impossible. In the trial and

execution of the Carthusians Henry had shown to Europe that he was himself

in earnest. The blood of martyrs was the seed of the Church, and Paul

calculated rightly that he could not injure the King of England more

effectually than by driving him to fresh severities and thus provoking an

insurrection. No other explanation can be given for his having chosen this

particular moment for an act which must and would produce the desired

consequence. Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More had been allowed six weeks

to consider whether they would acknowledge the Statute of Supremacy. More

was respected by every one, except the Lutherans, whom he confessed that

he hated; Fisher was regarded as a saint by the Catholic part of England;

and the King, who was dependent after all on the support of his subjects

and could not wish to shock or alienate them, would probably have pressed

them no further, unless challenged by some fresh provocation. Fisher had

waded deep into treason, but, if the King knew it, there was no evidence

which could be produced. Before the six weeks were expired the Court and

the world were astonished to hear that Paul had created the Bishop of

Rochester a cardinal, and that the hat was already on the way. Casalis,

who foresaw the consequences, had protested against the appointment, both

to the Pope and the Consistory. Paul pretended to be frightened. He begged

Casalis to excuse him to the King. He professed, what it was impossible to

believe, that he had intended to pay England a compliment. A general

Council was to meet. He wished England to be represented there by a

Prelate whom he understood to be distinguished for learning and sanctity.

The Roman Pontiffs have had a chequered reputation, but the weakest of

them has never been suspected of a want of worldly acuteness. The

condition of England was as well understood at Rome as it was understood

by Chapuys, and, with Dr. Ortiz at his ear, Paul must have been acquainted

with the disposition of every peer and prelate in the realm. Fisher's name

had been familiar through the seven years' controversy as of the one

English Bishop who had been constant in resistance to every step of

Henry's policy. Paul, who had just absolved Silken Thomas for the

Archbishop of Dublin's murder, had little to learn about the conspiracy,

or about Fisher's share in it. The excuse was an insolence more affronting

than the act itself. It was impossible for the King to acknowledge himself

defied and defeated. He said briefly that he would send Fisher's head to

Rome, for the hat to be fitted on it. Sir Thomas More, as Fisher's dearest

friend, connected with him in opposition to the Reformation and sharing

his imprisonment for the same actions, was involved along with him in the

fatal effects of the Pope's cunning or the Pope's idiotcy. The six weeks

ran out. The Bishop and the ex-Chancellor were called again before the

Council, refused to acknowledge the supremacy, and were committed for


The French and English Commissioners had met and parted at Calais. Nothing

had been concluded there, as Cromwell said with pleasure to Chapuys,

prejudicial to the Emperor; but as to submitting the King's conduct to a

Council, Cromwell reiterated that it was not to be thought of. Were there

no other reason, the hatred borne to him by all the English prestraylle

for having pulled down the tyranny of the Church and tried to reform them,

would be cause sufficient. The Council would be composed of clergy. More

than this, and under the provocation of the fresh insult, Cromwell said

that neither the King nor his subjects would recognise any Council

convoked by the Pope. A Council convoked by the Emperor they would

acknowledge, but a Papal Council never. They intended to make the Church

of England a true and singular mirror to all Christendom.

Paul can hardly have deliberately contemplated the results of what he had

done. He probably calculated, either that Henry would not dare to go to

extremities with a person of so holy a reputation as Bishop Fisher, or

that the threat of it would force Fisher's and the Queen's friends into

the field in time to save him. They had boasted that the whole country

was with them, and the Pope had taken them at their word. Yet his own mind

misgave him. The Nuncio at Paris was directed to beg Francis to intercede.

Francis said he would do his best, but feared the "hat" would prove the

Bishop's death. Henry, Francis said, was not always easy to deal with. He

almost treated him as a subject. He was the strangest man in the world. He

feared he could do no good with him. There was not the least

likelihood that the King would allow the interposition either of Francis

or of any one. The crime created by the Act of Supremacy was the denial by

word or act of the King's sovereignty, ecclesiastical or civil, and the

object was to check and punish seditious speaking or preaching. As the Act

was first drafted, to speak at all against the supremacy brought an

offender under the penalties. The House of Commons was unwilling to make

mere language into high treason, and a strong attempt was made to

introduce the word "maliciously." Men might deny that the King was Head of

the Church in ignorance or inadvertence; and an innocent opinion was not a

proper subject for severity. But persons who had exposed themselves to

suspicion might be questioned, and their answers interpreted by collateral

evidence, to prove disloyal intention. Chapuys's letters leave no doubt of

Fisher's real disloyalty. But his desire to bring in an Imperial army was

shared by half the Peers, and, if proof of it could be produced, their

guilty consciences might drive them into open rebellion. It was

ascertained that Fisher and More had communicated with each other in the

Tower on the answers which they were to give. But other points had risen

for which Fisher was not prepared. Among the papers found in his study

were letters in an unknown hand addressed to Queen Catherine, which

apparently the Bishop was to have forwarded to her, but had been prevented

by his arrest. They formed part of a correspondence between the Queen and

some Foreign Prince, carried on through a reverend father spoken of as E.

R. ... alluding to things which "no mortal man was to know besides those

whom it behoved," and to another letter which E. R. had received of the

Bishop himself. Fisher was asked who wrote these letters: "Who was E. R.?

Who was the Prince?" What those things were which no mortal was to know?

If trifles, why the secrecy, and from whom were they to be concealed? What

were the letters which had been received from the Bishop himself to be

sent oversea? The letters found contained also a request to know whether

Catherine wished the writer to proceed to other Princes in Germany and

solicit them; and again a promise that the writer would maintain her cause

among good men there, and would let her know what he could succeed in

bringing to pass with the Princes.

The Bishop was asked whether, saving his faith and allegiance, he ought to

have assisted a man who was engaged in such enterprises, and why he

concealed a matter which he knew to be intended against the King; how the

letter came into his hands, who sent it, who brought it. If the Bishop

refused to answer or equivocated, he was to understand that the King knew

the truth, for he had proof in his hands. The writer was crafty and subtle

and had promised to spend his labour with the Princes that they should

take in hand to defend the Lady Catherine's cause.

The King held the key to the whole mystery. The mine had been undermined.

The intended rebellion was no secret to Henry or to Cromwell. Catherine, a

divorced wife, and a Spanish princess, owed no allegiance in England. But

Fisher was an English subject, and conscience is no excuse for treason,

until the treason succeeds.

Fisher answered warily, but certainly untruly, that he could not recollect

the name either of the Prince who wrote the letter which had been

discovered or of the messenger who brought it. It was probably some German

prince, but, as God might help him, he could not say which, unless it was

Ferdinand, King of Hungary. E. R. was not himself, nor did he ever consent

that the writer should attempt anything with the German Princes against

the King.

He had been careful. He had desired Chapuys from the beginning that his

name should not be mentioned, except in cipher. He had perhaps abstained

from directly advising an application to Ferdinand, who could not act

without the Emperor's sanction. His messages to Charles through his

Ambassador even Fisher could scarcely have had the hardiness to deny; but

these messages, if known, were not alleged. The Anglo-Imperial alliance

was on the anvil, and the question was not put to him.

Of Fisher's malice, however, as the law construed it, there was no doubt.

He persisted in his refusal to acknowledge the supremacy of the Crown.

Five days after his examination he was tried at Westminster Hall, and in

the week following he was executed on Tower Hill. He died bravely in a

cause which he believed to be right. To the last he might have saved

himself by submission, but he never wavered. He knew that he could do

better service to the Queen and the Catholic Church by his death than by

his life. Cromwell told Chapuys that "the Bishop of Rome was the cause of

his punishment, for having made a Cardinal of the King's worst enemy." He

was "greatly pitied of the people." The pity would have been less had his

real conduct been revealed.

A nobler victim followed. In the lists of those who were prepared to take

arms against the King there is no mention of the name of Sir Thomas More;

but he had been Fisher's intimate friend and companion, and he could

hardly have been ignorant of a conspiracy with which Fisher had been so

closely concerned; while malice might be inferred without injustice from

an acquaintance with dangerous purposes which he had not revealed. He paid

the penalty of the society to which he had attached himself. He, even more

than the Bishop of Rochester, was the chief of the party most opposed to

the Reformation. He had distinguished himself as Chancellor by his zeal

against the Lutherans, and, if that party had won the day, they would have

gone to work as they did afterwards when Mary became Queen. No one knew

better than More the need in which the Church stood of the surgeon's hand;

no one saw clearer the fox's face under the monk's cowl: but, like other

moderate reformers, he detested impatient enthusiasts who spoilt their

cause by extravagance. He felt towards the Protestantism which was

spreading in England as Burke felt towards the Convention and the Jacobin

Club, and while More lived and defied the statute the vast middle party in

the nation which was yet undecided found encouragement in opposition from

his example. His execution has been uniformly condemned by historians as

an act of wanton tyranny. It was not wanton, and it was not an act of

tyranny. It was an inevitable and painful incident of an infinitely

blessed revolution.

The received accounts of his trial are confirmed with slight additions by

a paper of news from England which was sent to the Imperial Court.

More was charged with having deprived the King of the title of "Supreme

Head of the Church," which had been granted to him by the last Parliament.

He replied that, when questioned by the King's Secretary what he thought

of the statute, he had answered that, being a dead man to the world, he

cared nothing for such things, and he could not be condemned for silence.

The King's Attorney said that all good subjects were bound to answer

without dissimulation or reserve, and silence was the same as speech.

Silence, More objected, was generally taken to mean consent. Whatever his

thoughts might be, he had never uttered them.

He was charged with having exchanged letters with the Bishop of Rochester

in the Tower on the replies which they were to give on their examination.

Each had said that the statute was a sword with two edges, one of which

slew the body, the other the soul. As they had used the same words it was

clear that they were confederated.

More replied that he had answered as his conscience dictated, and had

advised the Bishop to do the same. He did not believe that he had ever

said or done anything maliciously against the statute.

The jury consulted only for a quarter of an hour and returned a verdict of

"guilty." Sentence passed as a matter of course, and then More spoke out.

As he was condemned, he said he would now declare his opinion. He had

studied the question for seven years, and was satisfied that no temporal

lord could be head of the spiritualty. For each bishop on the side of the

Royal Supremacy he could produce a hundred saints. For their Parliament he

had the Councils of a thousand years. For one kingdom he had all the other

Christian Powers. The Bishops had broken their vows; the Parliament had no

authority to make laws against the unity of Christendom, and had capitally

sinned in making them. His crime had been his opposition to the second

marriage of the King. He had faith, however, that, as St. Paul persecuted

St. Stephen, yet both were now in Paradise, so he and his judges, although

at variance in this world, would meet in charity hereafter.

The end came quickly. The trial was on the 1st of July; on the 6th the

head fell of one of the most interesting men that England ever produced.

Had the supremacy been a question of opinion, had there been no conspiracy

to restore by arms the Papal tyranny, no clergy and nobles entreating the

landing of an army like that which wasted Flanders at the command of the

Duke of Alva, no Irish nobles murdering Archbishops and receiving Papal

absolution for it, to have sent Sir Thomas More to the scaffold for

believing the Pope to be master of England would have been a barbarous

murder, deserving the execration which has been poured upon it. An age

which has no such perils to alarm its slumbers forgets the enemies which

threatened to waste the country with fire and sword, and admires only the

virtues which remain fresh for all time; we, too, if exposed to similar

possibilities might be no more merciful than our forefathers.

The execution of Fisher and More was the King's answer to Papal thunders

and domestic conspirators, and the effect was electric. Darcy again

appealed to Chapuys, praying that the final sentence should be instantly

issued. He did not wish to wait any longer for Imperial aid. The Pope

having spoken, the country would now rise of itself. The clergy would

furnish all the money needed for a beginning, and a way might be found to

seize the gold in the treasury. Time pressed. They must get to work at

once. If they loitered longer the modern preachers and prelates would

corrupt the people, and all would be lost. Cifuentes wrote from Rome

to the Emperor that the Bishop of Paris was on his way there with

proposals from Francis for an arrangement with England which would be

fatal to the Queen, the Church, and the morals of Christendom. He begged

to be allowed to press the Pope to hold in readiness a brief deposing

Henry; a brief which, if once issued, could not be recalled.